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Nibali defends Tour dominance as victory looms

AFP

Stage winner Italy's Vincenzo Nibali celebrates after winning the eighteenth stage of the Tour de France on July 24, 2014Stage winner Italy's Vincenzo Nibali celebrates  after winning the eighteenth stage of the Tour de France on July 24, 2014

Stage winner Italy's Vincenzo Nibali celebrates after winning the eighteenth stage of the Tour de France on July 24, 2014Stage winner Italy's Vincenzo Nibali celebrates after winning the eighteenth stage of the Tour de France on July 24, 2014

Vincenzo Nibali insisted his dominance at this year's Tour de France is down to consistency as the Italian closed in on overall victory.

Only accident or illness can prevent the Sicilian from winning on the Champs Elysees Sunday after holding his lead through the difficult Pyrenean stages.

Nibali's current margin to second placed Thibaut Pinot is 7min 10sec, bigger than any winning gap since Germany's Jan Ullrich in 1997.

Ullrich, who later admitted to doping, won by more than 9min ahead of Richard Virenque, who would later be a central figure in the notorious Festina doping scandal.

Even Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour victories for the systematic use of the banned blood booster EPO as well as blood transfusions, never won a Tour by more than 7:47, something Nibali could better depending on how he does in Saturday's 54km timetrial.

But the Italian said there is a logical explanation for his performances.

"For a Tour like this one it's a normal gap given how I've performed and how we (Astana) have controlled the race," said Nibali.

"With respect to Armstrong it seems very difficult to compare. I won the Vuelta (in 2010), I was third in the Giro (in 2010), then second (in 2011) and then I won it last year when I was also second in the Vuelta, so I've shown development and progress over time (he was also third in the 2012 Tour.

"I got here in great form with a great team who had prepared for the Tour with a lot of dedication.

"What happened in the past must be left in the past. I think I've always been frank and I don't think I've had any incredible performances on any day where I've blown away the field.

"Every day I've taken a few seconds, 20 seconds here, 30 seconds there, maybe a minute and that's been important in building my lead.

"The difference to my rivals is that they have had a good day when they've gained time but then paid for it the next day.

"Stages like these are hard, you have to manage the pressure, the race and also mentally it isn't easy. Someone who has a good day can pay for it the next."

Nibali also said the gap would not have been the same had the two favourites for the Tour still been there.

Reigning champion Chris Froome crashed out on the fifth stage followed by Alberto Contador, a twice former winner, who lasted until the 10th stage.

Nevertheless Nibali still insisted he might have won.

"I've had a great Tour, I've always been there in great form from the beginning to the end," said the 29-year-old.

"I've tried always to manage the stages and it's gone well.

"Had Contador or Froome been there I don't know if I'd have won but there would've been more of a fight."

He also pointed to his total focus on the Tour this year as a crucial factor -- apart from the Italian National championships at the end of June, Nibali hadn't won a World Tour race yet in 2014.

"In the first stages I had managed to get a considerable lead from the cobbles (the fifth stage).

"Two and a half minutes (the gap to Contador) isn't easy on a stage like that. If Froome didn't have the problems he had it would have been a difficult day for him too.

"But in the mountains it's different, although I showed I was in top form from the beginning to the end.

"Another consideration is that all season I was focussing on the Tour while other riders tried to be strong in every race, like Froome in Romandie or Alberto who had a strong team at the Dauphine.

"That's lost energy but for me the principal objective was the Tour. I also had a big victory margin at the Giro last year (4:43 to Rigoberto Uran)."

Date created : 2014-07-25